Low Brow Theater

Concept: What helped spark the visual of Sewer Art was that I have been mulling over a spoof of the “high art” world. I like David Mamet, but I was always annoyed that his plays typically had 2 characters having a discussion about X across a table or something. There would always be a scene or more that had them debating an issue and it could be an issue that we wouldn’t have any idea about and/or they would have this oh, so annoyingly clever banter: So, you understand? I understand? Yes, you understand. Etc. I understand.

I was joking with someone years ago about how David Mamet plays could be boiled down to just one word with different facial expressions and punctuation. In one scene, it is a credit to the versatility of the English language and on the other hand you just want to slap the shit out of him. So I’ve been thinking about this again for whatever reason and decided that I might as well get to it.

Layout: Again, I went for the simple and felt the minimal concept worked well with the no frills attitude of the piece. I needed a beginning and end panel and enough panels in-between to tell the “story”. I can up one story to do an even layout but then thought of another way to say “Really”, and it all was set for the 12 panels. Originally, I didn’t have the comic lengthwise but I found I had another 1/8 of an inch if I turned it. You might be able to figure that out by looking at the panel spacing. A problem I came across was that when I wanted to have both characters in the picture I had to squeeze them in or make them very small and have too much dead space on top of the frame. Occasional focuses on individuals helped that somewhat.

Pencils: I got the general sketch idea from the Tom Hart’s Sand book you sent me but I couldn’t capture that kid like large head fun style so opted for a more “realistic style of people. While it is obviously very basic, I still had to spend a lot of time redoing the proportions and little things like the hands (even thought I’m not satisfied with either) Still, I felt it was good to experiment and I feel helped me as an “artist”.

Ink: Lots of fuck ups here, but this was the first time I had the pencil down to what I was willing to ink rather than “well, I’ll use this as a sketch for my final inked version.” Or “I have a lot of lines and I’ll just trace one of them.” So besides the mishaps, I have come to appreciate the value of finished pencils before going on to inking.

Tools: Same old, same old. But towards the end I taped down the page and it was interesting in a useful way as I did have to constantly more it around my desk (any luck with the table :-)).

Letters: I went though several drafts of what I wanted to use as an intro and conclusion but I felt that, in the end, the simpler the better. A less is more that the spirit of Mamet forced into me. I did spend some time going through the various fonts on my computer to find the ones that I felt matched the tone of the words they were representing. At first I had all these grant ambitions for the typeface of the “really”s but again felt that I should keep a low profile.



Cej sez:

Oh, yes! I don’t know if I should be happy or insulted that this one is dedicated to me.  Just what are you trying to say?  Am I a snob?  Am I a troglodyte?  Or are you saying that you like me; you really like me!

Oh who cares.  I just think that it’s cool that I’ve shown up in three different comics in the last 6 months.  And mama said I’d never amount to nothing!  I’ll be famous yet!

This was a great idea, and I’m glad you attempted it.  Overall, you really pulled off a nice “zinger” while still being faithful to the way it “really” is.  Regardless of whatever mean things I say below, I think this is a successful piece.

Oh, yes? 1) I think the balance between the first and last panels is well-played (pun intended).  I wonder if you could rely less on the square for these panels, and maybe “bookend” the piece a little more thematically.  For example, the first panel could have been a marquee or just a sign on a three-legged stand.  It mostly already has that look, so why not push it all the way?

2) I think that the art here, while simple, is still pretty expressive.  You’ve done a nice job with faces and hands in order to express (or complement) the meaning of the words.  I guess here again, I’d recommend just pushing it a little further.  I think you’d get a lot of mileage out of greater line weights.  What I mean is that these figures are still made up primarily of simple lines.  There’s nothing wrong with that (it’s mainly personal preference that makes me put a  lot of heavy shadows, etc. in my stuff) and I’m certainly not saying, “draw more like me.”  What I am saying is that clearly the black table and chairs have a lot of line weight and shadowing.  I would suggest that you add some of the same to the characters.  For example, you can make a big impact just by paying a little more attention to the eyes in panel 5.  He already has a sheepish look on his face; if his pupils had a little more darkness/fullness to them, he’d look even more like a little kid.  And don’t tell me that you can’t draw people.  I’m not saying they have to look “realistic”; I’m saying that even a cartoony look can have different line thicknesses in order to carry a lot of emotion.  Especially if you’re going cartoony, you can be looser with your expressions.  Consider panel 11: if the guy on the left had thick eyebrows pointing down at a sharp angle (like this: \\ //) it would convey even more anger/frustration.  A little cloud over his head might help, too, although that might be too much.

3) I think you made the right decisions with the title and the fonts.  They’re nice, simple.  I think you should probably have stuck with 2 fonts, but they aren’t excessively different.  Still, two or three is a good rule of thumb

Oh.  Yes. 1) More on the above #2: the black boxes have far more weight than they deserve since they are hardly the focus of the comic.   I realize that this is largely shorthand to say “table”; and I even think that it is appropriate to be so sparse, because it is consistent with the sparseness of Mamet’s plays.  But it detracts too much from the strip.  Look at the strip from a distance: what stands out?  That trick—holding the story at a distance—is a good way to see how your composition is working.

2) It isn’t clear to me if the lines above the characters in panel 2 is supposed to be background or a curtain.  I assume it’s the latter since it doesn’t appear again.  But if it is, why doesn’t the curtain come down?  This is a pretty minor complaint, but I think it’s worth pointing out.  Also, most Mamet plays I’ve seen didn’t have a curtain, but again, this is minor.

Personally, I like the regularity of the panels (simple squares), so I won’t suggest that you could have changed that (because the simplicity is part of the joke).  But I would suggest that you waste a lot of real estate with excess information.  In panel 2, you do a nice job of setting up where your people are in relation to one another.  After that, it is largely unnecessary to have anything below these people’s waists show up in the panel (after all, their knees and feet aren’t doing anything).  I’m not saying that you become monotonous about only showing faces, but look again at your panels.  Would you lose much by “cutting off” the bottom 25% in most of them?  What do you gain in panel 7 (with legs and chair) that you lose in panel 10?  Again, I’m not trying to tell you how to draw (and believe me, I make this mistake over and over again), but you mention that you would run out of room in some panels.  I’m suggesting that you have more room than you think.  There’s no reason that you have to fit the full figure into he panel.  Sometimes, cutting it can even make it more dramatic.  Consider panel 8.  The main “action” is in the characters’ faces and somewhat in their hands and posture.  First, you could “cut” everything below the waistline and lose nothing.  Second, the guy on the left doesn’t add much by showing us his butt or right arm.  You could “cut” the panel about an 1/8th of an inch behind his head, freeing up about ¼”.  That leaves more room for the speaker (who deserves more attention anyway).  I’d leave in his shoulder, but his butt could go.